This latest report and suite of other products from NCVER focuses on international approaches used to streamline the development process for vocational qualifications.

So, what can we learn from overseas? The report suggests that we don’t do that badly, but there are lessons for us that will help do things better!

A bit of context

Early in my VET career, now some 40 years ago, I was a curriculum development officer at a Victorian dual sector institution. We were tasked with developing a course for the installation and maintenance of 8-track stereo systems for cars. Anyone remember them? We developed the course just in time to see that technology come and go and for the cassette player to become the predominant way of accessing the Beatles, Stones or Abba as you cruised down the highway.

The key message is that timing and ‘speed to market’ in developing and implementing qualifications are often critical, particularly in occupations and technologies that are changing rapidly. It’s a priority for ministers as well. The issue of the ‘clunkyness’ of the whole Training Package development process has been highlighted in a number of recent reviews of the sector, most notably Joyce.

This report by NCVER’s Bridget Wibrow and Joanne Waugh compares our systems in Australia with those in Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.

So, how do we compare?

The authors point out that their analysis of vocational qualification development processes in other countries “shows no international process is more efficient or effective than Australia’s, but there are elements that could be adapted to improve Australia’s approach.”

Unlike other countries, our VET regulators in Australia “have little or no involvement in the training package development process, but they do accredit courses.” They also suggest that Australia’s federated system has an effect on the speed of the development process too, but further work is needed to look at how better collaborative practices and conflict resolution processes could contribute to reducing the overall length of the development process, which can take up to four and a half years! And then the package and the associated qualifications have to be rolled out and delivered by RTOs, which can take yet more time.

To meet the needs of a qualification’s many stakeholders, consultations with a variety of interest groups, such as employers, employees and educators, are common in the qualification development processes across the range of countries examined. “However, it is important to ensure the groups are appropriately represented,” or feel they have been.“Educators and educational institutions are readily involved in the qualification development process overseas,” the report concludes.

However, there is a perception in Australia that educators and educational institutions have little involvement in developing vocational qualifications, but NCVER suggests that this may not actually be the case, and “that they are more involved than generally believed.” While this may be the case, I think, industry – broadly conceived – may have the view that all their voices have not been heard. It’s important to get the range and balance of voices right without overdoing things and slowing the whole process down.

Lessons and possible improvements

The Australian model of qualification development supports extensive and phased consultations which can lead to potential conflicts between bodies and their particular interests, the report’s authors point out. In Australia “the case for endorsement is reviewed by state and territory governments and the Commonwealth Government, after which the AISC approves cases for endorsement to progress to skills minister.” This can affect the extent to which rapid changes in skill needs can be addressed, and “the value placed on occupational mobility in Australia makes it important for the system to consider where efficiencies can be made.”

Accredited courses and shorter skill sets and micro credentials are a way forward, but the Finns emphasise units rather than qualifications as the central product and the Dutch support  the use of “optional modules, which are jointly developed by companies and educational institutions to respond quickly to emerging skill needs or regional needs, have the capacity to be revised every three months and be delivered to students immediately.” Maybe these approaches are worth a thought?

The resources

There are a couple of other things worth a look as they help underpin Bridget and Joanne’s report. These include a set of case studies that provide more detail about the approaches used in the comparator countries, and a previously released and  complementary report that looks at approaches to rationalising VET qualifications. Regular readers will remember we highlighted that one in this VDC News article published in October last year.